Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Victorian Ball 2015 - Corset/Chemise

I have a major obsession with researching historical clothing, yet I so very rarely get to make any as most of my paid work tends to be parade and event work, or fairly small scale theatre with no budget for the kind of things I want to make.  Trying to eke out the time to make stuff for myself is a tricky one, and I've got a LOT of unfinished projects lying around.  In order to get something completed then, I needed a deadline... a Victorian Ball on the horizon with nothing to wear is a good starting point!

I'd previously stumbled across photos from the 'Spectacular Spectacular' Ball hosted by Izabella Pritcher of Prior Attire in 2012, and kicked myself for not knowing about it before.  Luckily for me, she decided to organise another one, this time a Victorian Ball at the Assembly Rooms in Bath, in May 2015.  I snapped up two tickets, and my sister didn't need much persuasion to agree to come with me!

As I would be making two ensembles; one for myself and one for Becky, it made sense to try tackling two different dress styles within the Victorian period.  As far as underpinnings go, I knew I wanted to make a round hoop crinoline, and a lobster tail bustle.  I had instructions for both from online sources (here, here), and was raring to give them a go.

I picked an 1850s style for myself, so began by making a one layer white cotton coutil corset based on Norah Waugh's 1860s (close enough) pattern from Corsets & Crinolines.  I am very thin, and a problem I'd noted with a previous corset was that if it is made to my measurements, and then laced to shrink my waist, my ribs just end up squashed.  Usually there's fat there that gets displaced, hence the boob lift, but in my case, nope.  This time round I tried to make sure there was extra room around my ribcage, so that I can shrink my waist in without hurting my sides in the process.

Blurry photos - a final check before adding the binding.
It was much more comfortable, although a little more pattern tweaking couldn't hurt for the next one down the line.  After half a day's wear my ribs were fine but I found that the shortness of the corset made it dig into my hips a bit.  This is likely due to needing to allow more space for the hips in the pattern, but it could also be a boning issue.  I recently got round to buying some of the german plastic whalebone that everyone's been raving about so I'll be trying it out in future makes, rather than the spiral steel boning that I used here.

I also made a simple cotton chemise using a free pattern from www.thesewingacademy.com, although I can't find the right link for it right now.

More Victorian Ball posts to come!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Cinderella wigs

October and November can be very busy months for me, and that's partly due one of my favourite jobs, which is creating wigs for the Dame(s) at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester.  This is my third year running, and it's a great job that's something a bit different from my usual costume work.

I'm currently working on six wigs for Widow Twankey for Aladdin, but today I'll be talking about the Ugly Stepsisters from last year's Cinderella.  As it was two Dames, there were eight wigs in total; four each.

Cinderella's Ugly Stepsisters - Wigs for the Ball
Because of the number of wig changes in the show, each one need to be made as one solid piece that just slots onto the head, with no need for styling, then comes off just as easily.  In previous years they'd used a buckram cap underneath, but were dissatisfied by the buckram distorting from the actor's sweat under the hot lights.  When I was asked to step in,  I discovered a method involving fosshape; a fabric that looks a bit like felt, but when steamed or heated will shrink and stiffen to a fixed shape.

I start by sewing together a cap out of fosshape, then steaming it over a wig block, and trimming the sides to the actor's hairline.  I can then take synthetic hair or cut up ready-made wigs, and sew them directly onto the fosshape cap, building up the style according to the design given.

The trick is to have a wig block that is the right size for the actor that'll be wearing it.  In the first year, by some fluke, the block I had was perfect for the actor's head.  For Cinderella, however, both actors had significantly larger heads so that the test cap I'd made barely went over their ears.  To get round this, I decided to customise two styrofoam heads to the actors' measurements, following the instructions on this video.

Head bulked out to right size with sellotape, and hairline drawn on with Sharpie.
Fosshape cap prior to steaming
Fosshape cap steamed and trimmed to hairline.
Tip:  I marked the hairline on the block twice.  I drew it out in Sharpie once, covered that in sellotape, then drew again.  When steamed, the fosshape picks up the outer pen mark, and so can be trimmed accordingly, but the original marking stays put for the next one.

I paint the fosshape with acrylics before adding the hair.  The hair is a mixture of extensions and ready-made wigs that I chop up and sew on in layers, echoing the growth pattern of natural hair.  Lace front wigs are useful for softening the edge where the front of the wig meets the forehead.

Front hairline in temporary plait to keep it out of the way as I fill out the back.

When the hair is securely styled, I coat it in lots of layers of clear spray varnish, to really fix it.  These wigs go through a lot of wear and tear on stage, so it's important that they're up to the challenge!

With the straight dark wigs, you can see that I've added pin curls to the front.  This is because the hairline was still too sharp a contrast at fittings, and needed breaking up.

A half up-do with a bow for their everyday look, a maid cap, a mob cap and rollers for the slosh scene (with a spare mob cap to allow for drying times between shows!), and a feathered updo for the ball.

Curly hair is far more forgiving!

The ball looks have a frame made of millinery wire inside, and the mob caps and rollers are attached to the base with large poppers for switching from show to show.  Unfortunately I'm dependent on the photographer to get photos of them in action and I've only got images of the slosh wigs to show you.

Now, back to work on Aladdin!  I'll be sure to take more making-of photos this time around.